Jay Leno marked his 20th anniversary on “The Tonight Show” Friday night in a manner that felt perfectly appropriate for him: He joked about it — twice — while, at the same time, not making a big deal of it.
It was May 25, 1992, when Leno took over as host of the storied NBC late-night show — just two days (Saturday and Sunday) after Johnny Carson bid farewell.
Leno commemorated the milestone first with a sight gag on Friday at the opening of the show, in which he was seen in a back hallway conversing with guests Colin Powell and decorated Army vet Greg Gadson. You can see this bit at the very beginning of the video, above.
Later, at about 6 minutes, 30 seconds into the show, Jay worked a joke about the anniversary into his monologue. He led into it with a line about Facebook and the company’s initial public offering last week. “And the social network ‘Faceplant’ [pause for laughter], I mean, Facebook — they have not done well since the company went public. Oh, my God. They say the company has lost money and credibility. Social network!? Sounds more like the NBC network, doesn’t it!?”
Then he made a joke about his 20th: “Actually, today is our anniversary,” Leno said. “Twenty years ago today we did our very first show. In that time we’ve seen a lot of stars come and go from the program – including me!”
He was referring to the ill-fated succession process by which he was replaced by Conan O’Brien in 2009, only to have Conan bring down the “Tonight Show” ratings, leading to Leno being reinstalled in 2010. Thus, technically, Jay can’t really celebrate 20 years as “Tonight Show” host, though marking the anniversary of his first show as “Tonight Show” host seems fair to us.